A girl grows up in small-town, rural Australia. Said girl is bullied by her teachers and peers, and consequently run out of town after being pinned for the murder of a classmate. Fast forward 20 years or so, and that same girl makes her way back to her ramshackle hometown of Dungatar having spent most of her adult life in Europe, most recently in Paris working for fashion houses like Dior and Balenciaga. Her scarlet red lips and high-fashion mystique is not readily welcome by the remote community. It’s not always easy to come home.
Directed and co-written by Jocelyn Moorhouse, The Dressmaker is the wonderfully wacky story of Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet) who trades haute couture and patisseries for the punishing climate of the Australian outback to care for her ailing mother Molly (Judy Davis). I’ve covered a red carpet or two, but I have to admit, I felt pretty star struck the moment I spotted Winslet stepping out of her car to engage with the hundreds of screaming fans. She has this playful, approachable, no-bullshit presence that is so refreshing at events like these. Moorhouse confirmed my preconceptions of the Oscar award-winning actress on the red carpet before the film’s world premiere.
“I was very lucky because I’ve wanted to work with Kate Winslet since I first saw her in ‘Heavenly Creatures’ when she was 17, so that was my dream. And my other dream was to work with Judy Davis,” said Moorhouse.
How did you arrive at casting Liam Hemsworth for the role of Teddy McSwiney, the local football star and object of Tilly’s desire?
“I knew I had to find a beautiful, kind of modern day Mel Gibson from when he was young, you know? And something like a bit of a cowboy but with a soft heart and kindness, and when I met Liam, I thought oh that’s exactly who you are.”
How did the experience of working with Kate Winslet compare with your preconceptions of her?
“She was so much more down to earth and generous and just hilarious than I imagined. Because, you know, you think she’s this big, serious, Oscar-winning actress, which of course she is, but she’s also a total goofball. She’s really funny, she cracks people up on set, and she was always making us laugh. Everybody loved her.”
Having lived on Phillip Island in Australia many years ago, where Hemsworth grew up, I was ready to reminisce with him over the beautiful place in which he hails. But alas, both he and Winslet were apologetically whisked away to introduce their film.
Although Winslet and Hemsworth were smoldering opposite one another in this film, it was Davis’ performance as Molly Dunnage that won the audience over, with her wry wit and perfectly timed one-liners.
The Toronto International Film Festival is on now through Sunday. Tickets are still available for tomorrow’s screening of The Dressmaker (at time of publishing) at tiff.net.
Originally published in The Province.